The Disgruntled You Will Have With You Always

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 ‘The disgruntled you will have with you always.’  Well, not necessarily so, according to The Reveal Study, sponsored by the Willow Creek Association, involving over 80,000 congregants in over 200 diverse congregations.  Those that are dissatisfied with their congregation’s ministry spanned between 6% and 42%, in their findings, just published in Follow Me: What’s Next For You?  by Greg L. Hawkins & Cally Parkinson.  (Available @ www.revealnow.com).  What’s more, the dissatisfied in this study averaged seven years in their congregation, involved people across the spiritual maturity spectrum and were neither entrenched in their frustration nor, for the most part, ready to quit the church.  And they seemed to be dissatisfied about the very same matters that people generally pleased with the church’s ministry voiced concerns about, though to a lesser extent.  “This suggests that we should pay attention to those complaining e-mails when we see consistent patterns in the source of the grumbling; it appears the dissatisfied may be a bellwether for the entire congregation’s view of needed change in the church.” (p. 98)

And what were the dissatisfied generally disappointed about?  This is what really caught my attention.  “By a wide margin, the weekend service is the church activity most highly correlated with church satisfaction.  In fact, the weekend service is more significant to people’s satisfaction with the church by a factor of four compared to all other church activities.” (p. 94)   Worship services seem to be the largest single factor related to people’s sense of satisfaction with the congregation’s ministry. 

The study goes one step further to ask what about the worship services fail to meet the expectations of those who are dissatisfied.  And here is some food for thought I’ve been chewing on all weekend.  The top three unmet expectations were:

• “Incorporates relevant Bible teaching to help me with everyday life”
• “Is challenging or thought provoking”
• “Provides in-depth study of the Bible”

I wonder if we might boil it down this way:  challenges me to think about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ whose life is grounded in the traditions of Scripture and yet lived out in a 21’st century Florida community.

There is bad news and good news here.  The bad news for preachers is that this is pretty much about our sermons.  The good news for preachers is that this is pretty much about our sermons – and we can do something about that! 

People expect our sermons to help them take seriously the authority of God’s Word for their lives as they live daily in a culture that is hostile to Christian faith.  And they don’t want us to feed them pre-digested pabulum.   They want to be treated as thoughtful people.  Not in the sense of sharing with them esoteric Biblical tidbits that make no difference in how they live their lives next week.   But in the sense of pushing them about . . . about what it really means to forgive that person who has offended them.   Or inviting them to wonder what’s really involved in being a servant who picks up her or his cross for others in Christ’s name.  Or challenging them honestly to look at our world where so many have so little while we have so much --  and where we seldom feel we have enough and tend to spend just about all that we do have on ourselves. 

This is preaching that flows out of a preacher’s own struggles to be an authentic follower of Jesus Christ.  These are the sort of sermons that call from preachers our very best and are possible only when we are being led and taught by the Spirit.  This is the “take thou authority. . .” for which we preachers were called, ordained and appointed.  This is the sort of preaching that deep down every preacher wants to be doing – and with God’s help can.

Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Office of Congregational Transformation



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